I have been a terrible reader recently, all the real life rubbish that's been piling up has collapsed upon me and doing anything that wasn't work or children became near impossible. This is demonstrated by the fact that it took me nearly two weeks to finish this novel despite really enjoying it. This really is unheard of and I'm sad I haven't been able to enjoy as much reading as I usually would.
Anyway, Dodger was one of my last library haul novels and it came to my attention on the longlist of Not the Booker Prize. It sadly didn't make the short list but the insane voting system doesn't really make me surprised by that. I liked the idea of it because I love Dickens and The Artful Dodger is one of his best characters. Of course Jack Wild automatically jumps into your mind when you think of him but I was interested to read the character from another perspective and see where Benmore could take him next.
First, as ever a summary of the novel:
"This clever, charming and amusing novel develops the adventures, and misadventures, of Jack Dawkins, better known as the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. Evocatively written, Dodger beautifully captures the atmosphere of Dickensian London as our iconic and irrepressible thief returns from deportation in Australia where Dickens so rudely dumped him half way through Oliver Twist.
Unaware of fate that befell Twist, Fagin and Sikes, the Artful Dodger returns to his old haunts as he seeks to uncover a vast fortune hidden there."
Benmore's Jack Dawkins is brilliant and certainly seems to have been built from the Jack Wild model. His use of language, actions and even his interior monologue were immediately imaginable as spoken by the quirky Wild himself. I know the musical version of Dickens' novel isn't necessarily the best portrayal but it is definitely one of my favourites of Dawkins.
Anyway, Benmore combines a classic character who is affectionately loved by hundreds of readers with a fast-paced mystery as Dodger has been allowed to return to London with a mission from a madcap Lord. He is sent back to find the Jakkapoor Stone with his faithful (or not?) valet Warrigal, an aboriginal Australian keeping tabs on all his movements.
He falls in love, gets in brawls, climbs onto rooftops and does everything you'd expect from the former top-sawyer of Fagin's gang. His return to London isn't without upset, as he finds out the fate of people such as Fagin, Bill Sikes and even his own mother and brother.
Although I took my time (not by choice) this would have been a novel I'd have raced through normally as I was desperate to find out what was on the cards for Dodger and his pals, if indeed anyone was on his side at all. The twists and turns are perfectly timed and the ending left me wanting more which is a good job as I'm well-informed there's more to come from the Dodger and Benmore:
@plasticrosaries Certainly does. Dodger of the Dials is being written now and will be out some point in 2014. Hopefully!
— James Benmore (@jhenrybenmore) September 10, 2013
If you're a fan of Dickens or simply love a mystery you should get stuck into Dodger - it's definitely worth it and I don't think anybody could be disappointed.